Study Guide

Every Man a King Themes

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  • Inequality

    All men may have been created equal, but in the early 1930s, that's where it ended.

    In Long's time, the Great Depression had devastated the American economy and left millions of people jobless and hungry. Plenty of rich folks lost their fortunes, too, but wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few super-wealthy men who owned obscene amounts of property and assets and who wielded the political power to preserve their wealth. This had been going on for decades in Louisiana, even before the Depression; the rich men ruled the state and paid very little attention to the problems plaguing the poor Louisianans who made up most of the population.

    Enter Huey Long, who made their cause his cause. At its heart, Long's "Every Man a King" speech was fundamentally centered on class inequality as the prevailing issue facing America. He addresses inequality from a number of perspectives in his speech, but the primary modes are as a matter of scripture, history, and common sense. And according to Huey, there's a simple and obvious answer: tax those rich guys heavily, distribute the rest to the struggling poor, problem solved. People wouldn't be exactly equal, but at least no one would starve and everyone would have equal opportunities for education. And decent health.

    What a radical idea.

    Questions About Inequality

    1. How is Long's program as described in the speech different from socialism or communism?
    2. Would Long's Share Our Wealth plan have been as popular without a Great Depression?
    3. What made Long's approach to dealing with income inequality so radical?
    4. Were Long's statistics on wealth inequality convincing?

    Chew on This

    Long made a strong case for wealth inequality being a recipe for total ruin of the country.

    The speech was so filled with exaggeration that it was easy for the rich to ignore it.

  • Religion

    Blessed are the poor, the Bible says. We're not sure how many starving Louisianans felt blessed in 1934, but the Bible always takes the long view.

    Religion was central in the lives of most Americans in the 1930s, and Huey Long took advantage of that. All of his speeches had plenty of Biblical references, and if Long could show that God was all-in with his Share Our Wealth program, he'd have the sympathy of his audience.

    The Bible—the books of the prophets in particular—is loaded with warnings about the dangers of amassing wealth at the expense of the poor. Biblical justice is economic justice, and the wealthy are always on the receiving end of divine wrath if they're not sharing it with the poor.

    Some guys have sure dodged a bullet.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Long addresses the infallibility of the Bible at one point in his speech: do you think this puts him at odds with the modern world? How well might Huey Long have fared in contemporary society and politics?
    2. How much of Huey Long's success could be attributed to his religious background and familiarity with the Bible? Could he have accomplished as much without using religious references so frequently?
    3. Do you think Huey Long believed the religious rhetoric he was pushing, or do you think it was merely a tool to get popular support?

    Chew on This

    Huey Long's use of religion in his speeches demonstrates a clear and deep understanding of his constituents.

    Long cloaked himself in an air of biblical and religious authority in order to make his political agenda seem impervious to any sort of attack: an attack on Huey Long was an attack on the word of God.

  • Power and Self-Promotion

    Huey Long may have believed in the message he was spreading, but he was out for himself as much as he was fighting for the little guy. The "Every Man a King" speech itself is a shameless bid to prop up Huey's chances at making a serious run at the 1936 presidential election. He doesn't come out and say so here, but it's in between the lines in the way he proposes his ideas and attacks his opponents.

    Long's tactics include ridiculing FDR's New Deal programs by making them look like a bunch of useless "alphabetical codes" that haven't solved a thing. By setting himself apart from the current leadership and proposing a radical plan to transform the lives of the working folks, he's putting himself out there as the guy who has to be in charge in order to make things happen.

    Questions About Power and Self-Promotion

    1. How is Huey setting himself up to be the next natural choice to lead the country?
    2. How much of Huey Long's speech do you think is an act in order to secure his own position and how much is genuine?
    3. Would Long have made this speech if the election wasn't around the corner? Would he have changed anything if the timing were different?

    Chew on This

    The principal motivation for Huey Long's speech was probably self-promotion—to get his name out on a national level before the 1936 presidential election.

    Long's ambition for power wasn't totally a bad thing, because it gave him a bigger soapbox to promote his ideas about helping the poor.

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